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Are there any risks involved in using expired hand sanitizers?

What are the risks involved in using expired hand sanitizers?

Expired hand sanitizers

Keeping your hands clean & sanitized reduces the risk of contracting most diseases. From the common cold to COVID-19, keeping the hands free from pathogens has been the priority. The best option is washing your hands with good old soap & water. But, in situations where you cannot access soap & water, hand sanitizers are your best bet. Though hand sanitizers reduce the risk of pathogens, what are the risks if you use an expired hand sanitizer? The article aims to give insights into the risks that are involved when you use expired hand sanitizers. 

How do you know whether your hand sanitizer has expired or not?

Expired hand sanitizers

Check the hand sanitizer label, and you must surely spot the expiry date. The standard expiry date of most hand sanitizers is anywhere between 24 months to 36 months, and a minimum of 24 months is suggested by the WHO. The expiry is considered when the hand sanitizers are stored in optimum conditions. Hand sanitizers are FDA approved and hence will carry an expiry date else one can assume that they expire after three years (for FDA-approved ones only),

What is the impact of expired hand sanitizers?

The expiry date of hand sanitizers indicates the period till when the active ingredients of the sanitizer are intact & work as expected. Within the expiry date of the hand sanitizers, their performance is intact. Beyond expiry, hand sanitizer may show low results. In the case of alcohol hand sanitizers, they retain their effectiveness even after a few months of expiry. Though gradually, they do lose their potential.

In most cases, hand sanitizers don’t become toxic after expiry, they just lose their effectiveness. In the case of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, the alcohol percentage drops, while it may still be effective against a few pathogens. It doesn’t mean that you can continue using it past expiry. Replacing it with a hand sanitizer within the expiry date should be done immediately.

Expired hand sanitizers

When the concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizers drops below 60%, many pathogens may not perish. If the alcohol percentage is above 42,5%, then it still stays effective against SARS viruses, MERS viruses, flu viruses, herpes viruses, Ebola viruses, and Zika viruses.

Curious ones can check out our blog on the difference between alcohol-based hand sanitizer & alcohol rubs.

Why does hand sanitizer expire?

The expiry of alcohol-based sanitizers is due to the volatility of alcohol. As time passes, the alcohol evaporates. It reduces the percentage of alcohol, and thus the effectiveness reduces. For hand sanitizers, the active ingredient decreases beyond the required level. Improper storage conditions may cause the hand sanitizer to expire before the printed expiry date. Ensure that the hand sanitizer is not stored in open. It should be ideally stored in a dry & cool place and away from sunlight. If the hand sanitizer is stored under ideal storage conditions and has never been opened, it may have its effectiveness intact.

Expired hand sanitizers

Expired hand sanitizers may be a better solution than having nothing. The physical rubbing action, even while using expired hand sanitizer (reduced quantity of active agent), will help in weakening pathogens. Hand sanitizers that contain aloe gel or glycerol can also help in the removal of dirt & dust. Other additives may also influence the expiry date.

Do you have bulk amounts of expired hand sanitizer? Check out the blog on bulk expired hand sanitizer disposal.

What are the risks involved in using expired hand sanitizers?

Generally, using hand sanitizers doesn’t ensure the complete annihilation of pathogens. They help in reducing their numbers. Also, hand sanitizers cannot eliminate a few pathogens. It is the case when hand sanitizer is in its best form. So, when a hand sanitizer expires, its effectiveness drops. It means that it is incapable of protecting you from pathogens, and thus you may eventually fall prey to them. There are no hazards due to the use of expired hand sanitizer, they may even help in protecting your hands from pathogens to a limited extent.

Curious ones can check out our blog on the benefits of applying hand sanitizer on the face.


Do the storage conditions of hand sanitizers matter?

Expired hand sanitizers

The expiry date printed on the label is under ideal conditions. The ideal conditions comprise storage conditions too. Depending upon the storage conditions, the effectiveness of hand sanitizers may decrease over time and may lose their effectiveness completely even before the expiry date. For alcohol-based hand sanitizers, storing them under cold conditions helps reduce the evaporation rate & volatility. So, don’t leave your hand sanitizers in warm places or directly under sunlight.

Can you use Methanol-based hand sanitizers?

FDA & CDC have clearly stated that alcohol-based hand sanitizers may only contain ethanol or isopropanol. Methanol (also known as wood alcohol) is highly toxic to human health, and its contact should be avoided. FDA approves only those alcohol-based hand sanitizers that don’t test positive for methanol.

Check out the list of hand sanitizers that one should avoid using (Due to the presence of methanol).


Hand sanitizers came in handy during the COVID-19 pandemic when hand hygiene was strictly followed across the globe. Now, hand sanitizers have become an essential part of human lives. So, a genuine query about the usage of expired hand sanitizers is expected. The hand sanitizers approved by FDA have an expiry date, which usually is 1 to 3 years post the manufacturing date. Beyond the expiry date, the quantity of active ingredients drops beyond the optimum value. It affects the effectiveness of the hand sanitizer. 

Expired hand sanitizers

Using hand sanitizers beyond their expiry date is not harmful to the human body. In alcohol-based hand sanitizers, beyond expiry, the alcohol evaporates due to its high volatility. Due to this, the alcohol content reduces significantly, and effectiveness decreases.  But as the effectiveness drops beyond the expiry date, replace it with the one which is yet to be expired. The expiry date printed on the label of the hand sanitizer should be considered only after ideal storage conditions.